GFPS changes COVID policy; Benefis requiring vaccine for employees under federal rule

During the Nov. 8 school board, the board approved revisions to Policy 1905, which addresses COVID health protocols such as masks.

The board adopted the 1900 series during the pandemic as emergency policies and updated 1905 regarding masks going into this school year.

GFPS board considering revisions to board policy for masks

That policy incorporated metrics regarding to case rates and positivity rates for local COVID cases.

GFPS requiring masks for all students, staff due to high COVID rates

“We’re finding we can’t administrer the policy the way its written,” GFPS Superintendent Tom Moore told The Electric before the meeting.

The school board’s policy subcommittee, which includes some administrators and two school board members, met last week and have proposed an amended version of the policy “that we can administer.”

The revision, reads as:

Moore said that the board is considered the proposed revision on first reading, but since the 1900 series policies are considered emergency policies, the board could take action on a first reading if they chose and a second reading, as would normally be the case, wasn’t required.

Despite another local media report, the board is not voting on creating the advisory panel in two weeks as the new policy leaves that to the superintendent’s discretion.

As of Nov. 5, there were 54 active COVID cases within the district.

GFPS requiring masks for all students, staff due to high COVID rates

Currently, the district is exempt from the federal vaccine mandate for companies with 100 employees or more, Moore said. He said district staff had looked into it and the Montana School Boards Association send out guidance indicating Montana is currently exempt from that mandate.

The mandate also doesn’t currently apply to local governments such as the City of Great Falls and Cascade County.

Jeff Hindoien, city attorney, told The Electric that the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard does not apply to state and local government workers in Montana, as Montana does not have a state OSHA plan.

He said his understanding is that the mandate applies to state and local governments in the 26 states and two territories that do have an approved state OSHA plan.

A separate vaccine requirement for healthcare workers does apply to Benefis Health System.

Kaci Husted, spokeswoman for Benefis said that the rules applies to those who receive funding the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which Benefis does.

She said that about 85 percent of employees were already vaccinated or had some kind of deferral.

The federal rule requires that heathcare workers have at least one dose of the vaccine by Dec. 5.

Husted said that because Benefis is required to comply, they will require employees to be vaccinated and if they don’t meet the deadline, won’t be able to work at Benefis after that point.

At the Great Falls Clinic, CEO Wayne Gillis, said in a statement that “we are working to gather all the details around all the possible exemptions so our entire team will have every possible opportunity to make the very best decision for them personally.”